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In GWB Hearing, "Aberrant" and "Illegal" Lane Ploy by Christie Men Draws Fire

Monday, December 09, 2013 - 08:10 PM

WNYC
Christie and Cuomo, in July 2012 (Getty Images/Getty)

For as long as anyone can remember the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has worked like this: Two governors divide up the board and staff appointments, and the contracts that flow from that. No one blows the whistle on anyone else, because that might jeopardize one's own spoils.

On Monday, the whistle blew as long and loud as a foghorn by the shoals of the Hudson River.

The setting was a hearing room in Trenton, where State Assemblymember John Wisniewksi decided to exercise a rare authority – using his subpoena power to summon officials to explain why three lanes onto the George Washington Bridge had been abruptly closed in September, causing a week’s worth of traffic and sending the Port Authority’s Executive Director, Cuomo appointee Pat Foye, into a rage.
Back in September, Foye charged in a heated email that the closures were made without proper public notice, in possible violation of the law, and, in fact, without his knowledge.  He immediately reversed the closures.  
But Democrats were swift to raise the possibility the lane closures had been made as political retribution against the Mayor of Fort Lee, a Democrat, who, unlike some Democrats, had not endorsed Christie for reelection.  There was a lot of whispering during Christie’s re-election campaign that he had a “naughty and nice list” but no one had been able to prove it.  Now, there was talk, there might be some evidence.  
The closures, according to some terrific reporting by the Wall Street Journal, had been ordered by David Wildstein, second in command on the New Jersey side to Bill Baroni, the Port Authority Deputy Executive Director.
Wildstein was once a Mayor himself, of Livingston, NJ.  But he was rather notorious for something else – for years he blogged under the non de plume of Wally Edge, aka NJ Politicker.  Keeping secrets, as we learned Monday, was a special trait of his.  
First up to testify was Cedrick Fulton, the Director of Tunnels, Bridges and terminals said he received a call from David Wildstein, whom everyone in the Port Authority understands is just a leap frog hop down from Governor Christie himself.  In fact, the two were high school buddies. 
Wildstein called him on a Friday, Fulton said, to inform him that the lanes would be closed starting on a Monday.  Had he told Foye, and officials in Fort Lee? “His response was, don’t worry about that, we will take care of that.”
In fact, Wildstein did not take care of that.  He did just the opposite, according to sworn testimony. Robert Durando, the General Manager of the George Washington Bridge, a 35 year employee of the Port Authority, put it like this:   “Mr. Wildstein instructed me do not speak to anyone in Fort Lee.”
Wildstein and Baroni, it turned out, hid the entire operation from Foye, even though it was quite obvious to Fulton and the whole bridge crew that it would be impossible to close three lanes without people noticing.  A lot of people noticed. 
Now, when that hit the media the Port Authority’s press office (which is controlled by Christie) spun it thus: there had been a traffic study.  Yes! That’s right, Deputy Director Baroni told lawmakers under oath a few weeks back, there was a traffic study. 
On Monday, it became clear there was no traffic study, not one of the sort anyone had seen ever before. 
“Do you agree that using lane closures for political purposes is the wrong thing to do?” Foye was asked. “ The use of any of our facilities other than in the public interest is improper,” Foye said, adding that the closures broke laws and “thankfully” did not result in the loss of life from an emergency vehicle caught in traffic. 
As enraged as Foye was, he testified Monday, there was nothing he could do.  Wildstein, who resigned Friday, gets to stay on for several more weeks in what Wisniewski called a “no show job.”
If he were a New York appointee would you have called him into your office and said why'd you do this? Wisniewski asked. 
-- Yes and shortly thereafter fired him.
 -- But he was a NJ appointee
-- Yessir...
-- And so you did not follow that course.
Meanwhile, for employees like Fulton and Barondo, who together have more than half a century’s worth of service in the Port Authority, all of this battling between appointees of New York and New Jersey is more than worrisome. 
“Your testimony tells me there is a culture of fear – is there a culture of fear?” Wisniewski asked Barondo. 
There was a very long pause. Ten seconds.  An eternity.  
“I think your answer speaks for itself.” 

The setting was a hearing room in Trenton, where State Assembly member John Wisniewksi decided to exercise a rare authority – using his subpoena power to summon officials to explain why three lanes onto the George Washington Bridge had been abruptly closed in September, causing a week’s worth of traffic and sending the Port Authority’s Executive Director, Cuomo appointee Pat Foye, into a rage.

Back in September, Foye charged in a heated email that the closures were made without proper public notice, in possible violation of the law, and, in fact, without his knowledge. He immediately reversed the closures.

But Democrats were swift to raise the possibility the lane closures had been made as political retribution against the Mayor of Fort Lee, a Democrat, who, unlike some Democrats, had not endorsed Christie for reelection. There was a lot of whispering during Christie’s re-election campaign that he had a “naughty and nice list” but no one had been able to prove it. Now, there was talk, there might be some evidence.

The closures, according to some terrific reporting by the Wall Street Journal, had been ordered by David Wildstein, second in command on the New Jersey side to Bill Baroni, the Port Authority Deputy Executive Director.

Wildstein was once a Mayor himself, of Livingston, NJ.  But he was rather notorious for something else – for years he blogged under the non de plume of Wally Edge, aka NJ Politicker, dishing dirt about state politicians. Keeping secrets, as we learned Monday, was a special trait of his.

First up to testify was Cedrick Fulton, the Director of Tunnels, Bridges and Terminals who said he had received a call from Wildstein, whom everyone in the Port Authority understands is just a leap frog hop down from Governor Christie himself. In fact, the two were high school buddies.

Wildstein called him on a Friday, Fulton said, to inform him that the lanes would be closed starting on a Monday. Had he told Foye and officials in Fort Lee? “His response was, don’t worry about that. We will take care of that.”

In fact, Wildstein did not take care of that. He did just the opposite, according to sworn testimony. Robert Durando, the General Manager of the George Washington Bridge, a 35-year employee of the Port Authority, put it like this: “Mr. Wildstein instructed me 'do not speak to anyone in Fort Lee.'”

Wildstein and Baroni, it turned out, hid the entire operation from Foye, even though it was quite obvious to Fulton and the whole bridge crew that it would be impossible to close three lanes without people noticing. A lot of people noticed. 

Now, when that hit the media the Port Authority’s press office (which is controlled by Christie) spun it thus: there had been a traffic study. Yes! That’s right, Christie appointee and Deputy Director Baroni told lawmakers a few weeks back, there was a traffic study. 

On Monday, it became clear there was no traffic study, not one of the sort anyone had seen ever before. 

“Do you agree that using lane closures for political purposes is the wrong thing to do?” Foye was asked. “The use of any of our facilities other than in the public interest is improper,” Foye said, adding that the closures broke laws and “thankfully” did not result in the loss of life from an emergency vehicle caught in traffic. 

When asked about all this last week, Christie himself didn't have anything more to offer than a flippant joke "I worked the cones actually," he told NJPR's Matt Katz when asked about knowledge of his appointees closing the bridge lanes.  "Unbeknownst to anyone, I was actually the guy out there, in overalls and a hat. You are not really serious with that question."

But yesterday's 6 hour proceedings were deadly serious, with Wisniewski threatening to take the Port Authority to court to get documents and to call more witnesses under oath.

For his part, as enraged as Foye was, he testified Monday, there was nothing he could do. Wildstein, who resigned Friday for being a "distraction,"gets to stay on for several more weeks in what Wisniewski called a “no show job.”

"If he were a New York appointee, would you have called him into your office and said 'why'd you do this?'" Wisniewski asked.

Foye: Yes and shortly thereafter fired him.

Wisniewski: But he was a New Jersey appointee.

Foye: Yessir.

Wisniewski: And so you did not follow that course.

Meanwhile, for employees like Fulton and Durando, who together have more than half a century’s worth of service in the Port Authority, all of this battling between appointees of New York and New Jersey is more than worrisome. 

“Your testimony tells me there is a culture of fear – is there a culture of fear?” Wisniewski asked Durando. 

There was a very long pause. Ten seconds. An eternity.  

“I think your answer speaks for itself.”

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Comments [15]

iMan9796 from New Jersey

Gov.Cuomo stressed that the traffic scandal did not take place on his side of the bridge, which is controlled jointly by New York and New Jersey.“It was done on the Jersey side of the bridge,” he said. “The Jersey officials handled it.

The thefts from the PABT’s Lost & Found Dept. by PABT Supervisors along with their illegal written policy of throwing valid lost passports in the garbage happened on the NY side of the GWB, so the New York officals should handle it. Gov. Cuomo it’s your turn to act, & don’t act like you didn't know. I've come to realize that ignorance is not only bliss, it is also contagious & spans both sides of the GWB. The ball is in your court.

The culture of fear is alive and well at the Port Authority, closely followed by a culture of wretched stupidity. Believe me, I know firsthand and I have the evidence to prove it. GWB General Manager Robert Durando’s testimony at the New Jersey State Assembly Transportation Committee on 12/9/13 exposes the culture of fear that exists at the Port Authority, he is fully aware of what happens to whistleblowers at the Port Authority. Sadly, Durando and his boss Cedrick Fulton, along with many other Port Authority employees decided to put tens of thousands of lives in jeopardy just to save their own jobs. They are all cowards, nothing more than highly paid puppets of the Port Authority. Every single one of them must be fired & prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for aiding and abetting this criminal activity.

Finally, a traffic study on 9/11...really, what’s next, the Port Authority giving all TSA airport screeners the day off on 9/11/14 to see if that speeds up the “screening process study?” The Port Authority has degenerated into a cesspool of crime, corruption, cover-ups & retaliation staffed with a bunch of clowns, cowards, liars & thieves.

No one should be above the law, no matter who they are or who they work for.

Jan. 29 2014 07:30 PM
iMan9796 from New Jersey

This same disgusting corruption, cover-up & retaliation is commonplace at the Port Authority Bus Terminal's Lost & Found Dept. in NYC concerning lost & found property brazenly stolen by Port Authority Supervisors. Google  “Donna Lebourne abc news" & see the vile face of shame being confronted & exposed for the world to see. 

http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/investigators&id=9105280

Port Authority Supervisor Donna Lebourne has an outside job, she is the Vice President of her & her husband’s charity Caribbean Sports International that donates cellphones & other electronics.  If you lost an item at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and did not get it back, contact her charity, perhaps she may donate your item back to you out of the kindness of her cold evil heart. It's very easy to be charitable when you are giving away other peoples' property.

http://www.corporationwiki.com/New-Jersey/Maplewood/caribbean-sports-international/85267222.aspx

http://www.gmdu.net/corp-390048.html

Also, the Port Authority of NY & NJ has become a threat to national security and has placed everyone's safety & security in jeopardy, by undermining all the counter-terrorism measures that have been put in place by the United States. They have allowed crimes such as the illegal policy of disposing lost valid passports in the garbage that are found in the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Now just imagine the damage that a terrorist cell could do with those valid lost passports or an identity theft ring. 

What happened in Kenya could easily happen here, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, as a result of the Port Authority's intentional breach of national security. This is a willful act of treason against the United States of America. Google "Port Authority - Passports."

http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/investigators&id=9277998

NYC Police Comminsioner Ray Kelly agrees with my concerns as well.

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/kelly-warns-copycat-terrorist-attacks-malls-article-1.1544046

If the Port Authority will not prosecute and punish their own supervisors for theft, especially when they are caught redhanded, how much confidence do you have in their ability to actually put a stop to their illegal passport policy? The Port Authority's inaction and cover-up is tantamount to treason

http://nypost.com/2013/09/09/terror-and-the-nypd/

Action must be taken against these corrupt incompetent criminals in the Port Authority before another terrorist attack takes place & more innocent lives are lost due to their utter disregard about our safety and security, not to mention their disgraceful feeling of self entitlement to patron's lost property found at the PABT.
Google “found, stolen, trashed by PA.”  

http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/found_stolen_trashed_by_pa_V4RMICgPyy2bhAVzDkW9EL

It’s time to stop the madness!

Dec. 15 2013 02:54 AM
dectra from DC

Christie is a bully, and he's sent his henchmen to do his dirty work. Turns out, his little errand boy got caught......

Yea, Christie is JUST what the Country needs....another Nixon in the making.

Dec. 13 2013 08:29 AM

This is just the beginning of a truth finding process. If it ends here, the cover up was successful.

One resignation with praise for Wildstein from Christie isn't even close to what needs to be done here.

The whole culture of the PA has been infested with the kind of de facto corrupt machine politics that permeates both NY and NJ and both parties.

Sadly, too many in the press and in pubic office are afraid of Christie and of his ilk.

Dec. 11 2013 09:27 AM
BJ from Bergen Cnty

Dear Larry Dell from East Orange, NJ
{My question is: Did anyone die or suffer because EMTs and other first responders were unable to reach them?}

Please understand when there's even the very slightest of delays on the GWB - Fort Lee becomes total gridlock. It's been happening for decades but now GPS instructs drivers to also use Fort Lee as an alternate route. So in answer to your question the threat is not emergency vehicles crossing the GWB - but being able to get anywhere in Fort Lee.

Within a 2 mile radius of the GWB you cannot back out of your driveway that's how severe this situation becomes. Emergency vehicles in Fort Lee cannot get crosstown and the towns south of or Fort Lee cannot get to the 3 local area hospitals. Heading north and or east becomes impossible.

Dec. 10 2013 06:16 PM
Arthur DG from New York

When is an Investigative Reporter going to take on the Port Authority? It is a public trust that is run like a private top secret companies. If there isn't corruption and waste there then there really is a Santa Claus. Are they so powerful that everyone is afraid to take them on? The raping of the public with outrageous tolls that go up constantly has to stop. If the Republicans are really concerned about big government why aren't they up in the face of the Port Authority. It has become its own Plutocracy and it is time to warm up the tar and bring out the feathers!

Dec. 10 2013 02:32 PM
Nancy from NYC

What is a partly public funded radio station doing with a politically bias ad. If they can't keep it neutral then they should get NO government money. Let the people who love it support it with their donations.

Dec. 10 2013 02:23 PM
Eric F

What's the ratio of Fort Lee lane closure stories to Metro North derailment fatality stories on this site?

Dec. 10 2013 11:34 AM
Nathan from Hoboken, NJ

I wish reports like this would change things, but PANYNJ is really the bane of my existence for almost 20 years. I cannot imagine how no one of any rank cares enough to do anything about it. From new PATH trains that make an incredible level of noise to BnT issues. I am thankful to Uber for finally fixing what the PA, again, doesn't care about: my ability to move around the area. Instead we have the PA involved in random things that do not matter to transportation like the WTC.

Why does the PATH not connect to the airport?
Why are there no region cabs?
Why has transit not been enhanced around the region connecting disparate systems?
Why is the PA not accountable for results?
Why is Newark terminal A a mess?
Why do all the signs around the LT not work?

All while fares, tolls, fees and the like ratchet up.

Dec. 10 2013 10:34 AM
Phil from Michigan

Hopefully...this NY/NJ this doesn't end up like the Sopranos

Dec. 10 2013 10:33 AM
thenewsjunkie

That kind of remark from Pat Foye, that he would have fired the guy if he were a NY appointee, shows that things between the two states are about as bad as they can get. While both states have a bunch of hacks and appointees who made it to their positions at the PANYNJ through political patronage Gov. Christie has been a hell of a lot worse about it than his NY counterpart. Despite all his bluster about government needing reform he's one of the worst when it comes to political patronage jobs in NJ.

Dec. 10 2013 10:18 AM
Larry Dell from East Orange, NJ

My question is: Did anyone die or suffer because EMTs and other first responders were unable to reach them?

Dec. 10 2013 10:17 AM
greatmom3

Thank you Thank you Foye Wall Street Journal and others who did not let this go just so shameful an understatement. How is Baroni still working?Hope you uncover more.

Dec. 10 2013 09:30 AM
Lisa from Fort Lee

to suppress voting too, this is Christie's doing and the perjury is from him

Dec. 09 2013 11:10 PM
jermain from New York

Unreal. Baroni lied under oath! He should be gone.

Dec. 09 2013 10:38 PM

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